April 28, 2023
AI Panel Quells Worries About the Bots Taking Over Creative Industry Jobs
By Desa Philadelphia
“Is AI Creative?”
That was the central question of discussion at a forum held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) on Wednesday April 26, that brought together specialists in engineering, computer science, and filmmaking to talk about the capabilities, and limitations, of platforms like ChatGPT, Midjourney and DALL.E.
The event, “AI, Creativity & The Future of Film”, was conceived by SCA alumnus Jon Dudkowski, a director and editor whose credits include Star Trek: Discovery, and Karim Jerbi, a Visiting Scholar at the Brain Imaging Group at USC’s Ming Hsieh Institute, which is in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Sponsored by Adobe, and presented as a joint effort between SCA and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the evening was an exercise in level-setting, to dispel myths about what AI is currently capable of creating. The answer? Nobody’s job is in danger—yet.
The night began with a presentation by Yves Bergquist, Director of the AI & Blockchain in Media Projectat USC’s Entertainment Technology Center at the School of Cinematic Arts, on the science behind the most popular emerging platforms. He explained the generative models at the heart of the technologies—from the Transformers like ChatGPT, which is able to sequence data to produce text for essays, prose, poetry, scripts etc.; through Diffusion models, like DALL.E, which add and then remove “noise” from existing images to create new ones; to efforts at integrating existing models. He then offered this definitive assessment of ChatGPT, the essay-writing bot that has been at the center of plagiarism concerns across the university: “It is very good at writing bad and boring text. It is not going to be able to write a story. It is not going to be able to write a script. It does not understand the world at a level of symbolism, at a level of depth that we understand.”
Jerbi took the standing-room-only audience through demonstrations of the kinds of experiments being done by researchers in Neuro-AI, a new field of inquiry that compares the “brain” activities of humans and machines that are performing the same tasks. The goal is to compare the biological networks of the brain with the artificial ones. “We are seeing tremendous progress in AI but still far from human level intelligence,” said Jerbi. “Some things a toddler can do that the most advanced AI can’t do.” Jerbi however offered this discomforting fact. The next generation of AI, dubbed Artificial General Intelligence, is focused on closing that gap. The key word is “General” meaning the ability to apply instructions innovatively. Today’s AI might use a hammer to just hit the nail it is instructed to pound; but generalized intelligence might then apply the hammer in breaking up rocks, without being told.
Dudkowski then moderated a panel discussion in which Bergquist and Jerbi were joined by filmmakers Chad Nelson, whose film Critterz features characters created using DALL.E; Mary Sweeney, who produced and/or edited several David Lynch projects, and SCA alumna Athena Wickham, the executive producer of Westword and The Peripheral. They were also joined by William Swartout, Chief Technology Officer of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
No one on the panel yielded to any suggestion that AI, in and of itself, can be creative. Instead the consensus was that as a tool, it could facilitate faster iterations of works like script drafts, storyboards and production design. “What excites me for myself is being able to use it like a tool to accelerate the process and to see what you have and don’t have more quickly and inexpensively,” said Wickham. “What scares me is people getting lazy with it. I do worry that I’m going to start getting a lot of scripts and pitches that feel like someone hasn’t taken the time to edit it and put their own spin on it and that’s going to piss me off.”
Nelson concurred: “I personally haven’t seen an AI image where I think ‘that’s all that needs to happen, it’s done.’ It doesn’t know good from bad. Someone still has to say that’s good.”
Sweeney worried that AI platforms will encourage more of the kind of device addiction that has been linked to depression in young people. But she described her approach as “cautiously curious” and compared new approaches to the shift from analog to digital film editing. “I’m always interested in new tools.”
Essentially reading the room, Swartout acknowledged the attention AI platforms have been receiving in the press lately, and succinctly summarized the state of AI creativity at this moment: “In the popular mind we are going to think we are much further than we are.”